A dusty car against a white wall with bullet holes.

A dust-covered car in Jenin is parked against a wall marked with bullet holes.

(Photo: Nour)

A Visit to Jenin Shows the Consequences of Performative US Policies

The assault in July was executed using weapons from U.S. arms deals, despite tightened restrictions issued by President Joe Biden in February.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank where a major attack by the Israeli Occupation Forces , or IOF, was carried out in July under the guise of a military operation targeting militants. The two-day raid resulted in the murder of 12 Palestinians, including four children, over 100 wounded, and 3,000 forced to evacuate by the IOF’s indiscriminate violence.

Nearly a month later, there were signs of the invasion everywhere, forcing Palestinians to relive this violence daily. Streets that were destroyed by the IOF remained inaccessible, homes torched by drone strikes were haunting, bullet holes marked almost every home I passed by. The local showing me around, a resident of Jenin refugee camp, informed me that the IOF struck the streets first so that movement would be restricted. The IOF deliberately destroyed the streets of a densely populated refugee camp before attacking it from ground and air.

I witnessed two especially devastating sights that day: Shireen Abu Akleh’s memorial covered in bullet holes, a testament to the relentless violence perpetuated in Jenin, and the graves of the martyrs that this attack produced. The 12 graves were gathered on a small patch of land, with flowers planted on top of them. Some included pictures of the martyrs, revealing how young these so-called “militants” were. I could feel the collective grief for the martyrs in the air. Two young boys were visiting them when we arrived, and those passing by exclaimed, “May God have mercy on them.” The invasion failed to destroy Jenin’s spirit of resistance.

If it’s one thing being Palestinian teaches you, it’s that there is always room to resist, because our personal power is our greatest tool.

Despite the devastation brought on by the occupation, Palestinians continue to have a conviction to live a joyful life. Their vitality somehow made even the occupation digestible. Hearing about Jenin’s spirit of resistance is one thing, but witnessing it in person is another—that is when you understand. You understand that resistance is continuing to live next to your neighbor’s home that was struck by an IOF drone, not allowing the destroyed streets to stop you from walking to prayer; it’s passing by bullet holes in almost every building on your way to visit family. After witnessing these conditions, I wonder what type of attitude towards Israel Palestinians are expected to have. Think about a Palestinian child growing up in these conditions, living amid the destruction of a military raid that left their community members dead, injured, and detained. It is unreasonable to expect that these circumstances would foster a positive attitude towards Israel. In fact, they only fuel the resistance, and Israel is well aware of it, therefore their intentions for the outcome of this “operation” must be investigated.

The erasure of Palestinians is at the core of the Zionist political movement, making Israel a constant threat to Palestinian life. The actions of the IOF make it clear that their goal is to literally target and murder Palestinians who resist against Israel, even if they are children. Furthermore, the nature of this attack, which took place in a densely populated refugee camp, represents Israel’s frequent strategy of collective punishment. It’s used as a way to intimidate and punish all Palestinians in hopes of deterring them from resisting the occupation. The invasion was so brutal and indiscriminate that Palestinians fled in fear for their lives.

Israel cannot hide behind their narrative of Palestinian terrorists, and call their invasions military operations, when at this point in history we’ve seen this language weaponized to downplay Israel’s crimes against humanity time and time again. The world has watched Israel attack and oppress Palestinians for decades, we’ve watched the violent settler colonization of Palestine progress, we are aware of Israel’s genocidal goals. Our governments have witnessed this as well, yet the U.S. government remains a staunch supporter of Israel and consistently violates its own policies while doing so.

The residents of the Jenin refugee camp have been recurrent targets of Israeli military violence, particularly since the second intifada in 2002. The assault in July was executed using weapons from U.S. arms deals, including the Boeing-made Apache helicopter. Despite President Joe Biden’s Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy, which prohibits authorizing arms transfers if the recipient is likely to use them for “grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949,” including violence against children, these deals continue. The Jenin attack resulted in the death of four children, and over 35 children have been killed by Israel this year. The same Apache helicopter used in the July attack was also used in 2002, leading to the killing of 53 Palestinians, the destruction of over 400 homes, and the displacement of more than a quarter of the camp’s population. Despite the use of the Apache helicopter by Israel to breach the Geneva Conventions in 2002, the U.S. government has taken no action to halt future arms sales to Israel. These actions clearly violate both the CAT policy and international law, but the arms deals are still being authorized, implicating the U.S. in the ongoing occupation and emphasizing the lack of accountability.

Biden’s CAT policy was just released February of this year, specifically to include tighter restrictions on arms deals, but somehow Israel is evading accountability yet again. It begs the question, are policies written in a way to allow exceptions when it benefits U.S. interests? The tighter restrictions take form in the language used to define the standards by which the recipient of arm sales will be assessed. The previous policy uses the phrase “actual knowledge,” which Biden replaced with “more likely than not.” This is in reference to the standards by which the recipient of the arms sales will be assessed in their likelihood of using the weapons to commit atrocities. However, in the context of a subjective policy which serves as a guide rather than a prescription of specific outcomes, the difference between “actual knowledge” versus “more likely than not” does not translate into a tangible change in accountability. Furthermore, the U.S. government is given more than enough proof that Israel uses U.S. weapons to commit atrocities when the IOF targets and murders children and the former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confirms and defends this on BBC. It is clear that even the U.S.’s own policies cannot stop them from aiding ethnic cleansing abroad.

That does not mean that all is hopeless. If it’s one thing being Palestinian teaches you, it’s that there is always room to resist, because our personal power is our greatest tool. As a Palestinian American, I was born into this cause and I bear a responsibility to it twofold. First, in the commitment to the liberation of my people and my land, and second, in the commitment to global peace and liberation, which requires me to hold my own government accountable. As U.S. citizens, and citizens of the world, we all have the responsibility to use our personal and collective power in every capacity we can. If the U.S. writes a subjective policy perpetuating oppressive structures abroad, it is our job to do everything we can to pressure that subjectivity in favor of the oppressed. During my visit to Palestine, the Palestinians there emphasized how important international support is, especially in the U.S. It is our duty to honor that.

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